Business Administration

Does It Matter Where You Get Your MBA Online?

Does It Matter Where You Get Your MBA Online?
The best business schools endeavor to give their distance learners the same educational experience on-campus students receive, which usually involves face time and collaboration. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry December 15, 2020

There are hundreds of online MBA programs at colleges and universities around the United States. How do you choose the one that's right for you?

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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It wasn’t long after the advent of the commercial internet that colleges and universities began experimenting with online MBA programs. A handful of for-profit schools launched early online MBA programs in the late 1980s; Athabasca University even launched an online EMBA in 1994. However, contemporaneous technology severely limited what and how content could be delivered.

Online MBA programs only really started to gain traction when robust platforms for distance learners arrived and streaming became commonplace. Even then, the demand for distance learning MBA programs took time to develop. Until 2012, growth was slow and tentative.

Then, between 2012 and 2016, the number of schools offering online MBA degree programs grew by 54 percent. In 2017, many business schools received nearly twice as many applications as in previous years—even as colleges and universities reported a decline in traditional MBA applications. The online MBA had arrived.

Technological advances, availability, and demand all fueled the growth of online MBA programs. As schools like Indiana University – Bloomington‘s Kelley School of Business put programs online and reported impressive student outcomes, online business degrees’ reputation improved. And in 2020, the Covid-19 lockdowns prompted more business schools to launch online programs.

Of course, not all online MBA programs have the same cachet as Kelley Direct. A great many, however, deliver reliable degree programs that positively impact careers. In this article, we explore whether it matters where you get your MBA online and answer the following questions:

  • What is an MBA?
  • What is an online MBA?
  • Are online MBAs respected?
  • Online MBA rankings
  • Does it matter where you get your online MBA?

What is an MBA?

The MBA is the must-have master’s-level credential for business professionals, though you might want to think of it as not one degree but a broad category of degrees. That’s because there are so many MBA concentrations and specializations (more on this below).

What can you do with an MBA?

MBAs can be found in the smaller startups and the largest Fortune 500 corporations. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s corporate recruiting survey, these fields are known for hiring the most MBAs:

MBAs can be found in different departments, including:

What skills do you learn in an MBA program?

While the MBA is an extraordinarily versatile degree that can be tailored to meet the needs of professionals in different industries, nearly all MBA degree programs teach:

  • Coaching skills
  • Collaboration skills
  • Communication skills
  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Leadership skills
  • People-management skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time-management skills

How long does it take to earn an MBA?

Most full-time MBA programs, regardless of concentration or delivery format, take two years to complete. Part-time programs typically last three years, though some students may graduate in four years in self-directed or asynchronous programs.

MBA admission requirements

Most schools evaluate MBA applications using GMAT scores, essays or personal statements, recommendations, and work experience. You’ll be asked to submit transcripts, but your GPA won’t carry as much weight as your accomplishments and aspirations. MBA programs want to fill their open spots with experienced professionals who’ve had some career wins and will use what they learn in class to advance further along already-established career paths. That said, there are plenty of MBA programs that welcome students fresh out of college; they just tend to be mid-level programs, not top-ranked schools.

Why is an MBA valuable?

With an MBA on your resume, you’ll have the skills and tools to:

  • Advance in your current position
  • Build value for your company
  • Change industries
  • Compete in crowded job markets
  • Increase your earning potential
  • Join the ranks of management
  • Launch your own company
  • Make smarter business decisions
  • Specialize in one area of business

That’s why an MBA, though potentially expensive, is considered an investment. Companies across industries rely on MBAs to lead, optimize, and grow their businesses. Earning this degree prepares you to take the next step in your career, whether that means moving into a new field, transitioning into an executive role, or founding a startup.

What’s the difference between an MBA and a Master of Science in Business Administration?

What distinguishes the Master of Science in Business Administration (and the Master of Management) from the MBA is student demographics and the depth of material covered. MBA programs are typically designed for students with two to five years of professional experience. MS in Business Administration programs, on the other hand, more readily accept recent college grads. Consequently, MBA programs tend to devote more time to advanced business and managerial concepts, while MS programs teach students business fundamentals.

Be aware that degree naming conventions vary. Never make assumptions about the content of a program based on degree name alone.



University and Program Name Learn More

What is an online MBA?

All MBA programs, regardless of format, prepare students to succeed in executive-level and management positions or to launch careers in consulting and entrepreneurship. MBA programs for distance learners simply deliver course content in the digital realm instead of the classroom.

Online MBA vs in-person MBA

The best online MBA programs are near-identical adaptations of traditional Master of Business Administration programs. The admissions requirements applicants have to meet are often the same for online and in-person learners. Students complete the same coursework, internships, capstone projects, and domestic and international immersions as their peers who take classes on campus. Online classes aren’t easier. After graduation, they receive the same level of career support and have access to the same alumni networks.

So, why does it matter where you get your MBA online? Because not all online learning programs are created equal. Prestigious b-schools do a lot to replicate as many elements of the in-person MBA experience as possible, including live classes, local events for distance learners, and bringing online MBA students to campus multiple times for residencies.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous content

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that online MBA programs are primarily self-directed. Most do offer a degree of flexibility comparable to that of professional MBA programs but still have synchronous live lectures, proctored exams, required campus residencies, and collaborative group work that must be completed at set times. There aren’t actually that many 100 percent asynchronous online MBA programs out there. The best business schools endeavor to give their distance learners the same educational experience on-campus students receive, which usually involves face time and collaboration.

Online MBA courses

The coursework in most online MBA programs explores advanced business topics related to:

  • Accounting
  • Analytics
  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Statistics
  • Operations

It doesn’t matter where you get your MBA online or what concentration you choose. The classes you take will cover the above concepts.

Online MBA core curriculum

The core classes in online MBA programs vary to some extent but often differ more in name than in content. Take a look at the classes students in Howard University‘s 48-credit online MBA program take:

  • Data Analytics
  • E-commerce in Supply Chain Management
  • Economics for Global Leaders
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Financial Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Financial Modeling
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Marketing Management
  • Organizational Management
  • Principles of Information Systems
  • Productions and Operations Research
  • Project Management
  • Strategic Management
  • Statistics and Business Analytics

Then compare those to the core courses in the University of Tulsa‘s Collins College of Business online MBA program:

  • Computer Information Systems
  • Corporate and Business Strategy
  • Financial Management
  • Issues in Business Ethics
  • Leading and Managing Organizations
  • Marketing Management
  • Operations Management
  • Preparing, Understanding, and Using Financial Statements
  • The World Economy

Students in both programs study strategy, finance, marketing, leadership, operations, and global business. They likely graduate equally qualified to step into higher-level roles in the corporate world.

Online MBA electives

Distance MBA programs approach electives in varied ways. Some require students to complete a set number of elective credits chosen from the business school’s courses. This is most common in online MBA programs geared toward generalists. At colleges and universities that offer MBA concentrations, students may choose from lists of elective options related to their specializations. Often these can include business-related courses offered by other online divisions of the university (e.g., computer science, data science, law).

Online MBA specializations

It’s not unusual for b-schools to offer distance learners fewer MBA concentration options, but most specializations you can imagine are provided by at least a few online programs. The most common include:

  • Business analytics
  • Digital technology management
  • Energy
  • Finance
  • Healthcare administration
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
  • Strategy and leadership
  • Supply chain operations

Less common MBA specializations, like aviation or sports management, may be harder to find in online programs, but they’re out there. The University of Tulsa, for instance, offers specialization in consumer behavior.

Online MBA immersions

The best MBA programs for distance learners build the same immersive, real-world business experiences into the curriculum as in-person programs. This is important because students in online classes miss out on some of the networking events, job fairs, and site visits that are a part of the traditional MBA experience. Campus residencies, international excursions, and domestic immersion events bring students in online cohorts together so they can build their networks and work together to solve real-world business challenges. Other online resources also help supplement distance learners’ career development resources.

Online MBA admissions

Admissions requirements vary from program to program and are generally similar to, if not identical to, those of programs delivered on-campus. Many online MBA programs ask applicants to submit transcripts from any bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs previously completed, GMAT or GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, and personal statements or essays that demonstrate their business acumen and commitment to career advancement.

Every online MBA program has unique application requirements, but what admissions officers want to see is that applicants can handle the challenging material they’ll encounter in an online MBA program and are driven enough to work independently.

Online MBA no GMAT

Numerous online MBA programs have no GMAT requirement, and the overall number of no-GMAT required MBA programs is growing. The following schools don’t require applicants to submit GMAT scores with applications:

This list is by no means complete. During the Covid-19 pandemic, several high-profile business schools (e.g., the University of Southern California‘s Marshall School of Business) began waiving the GMAT requirement for MBA program applicants. Whether the GMAT requirement at these colleges and universities will be reinstated in the future remains to be seen.

One-year online MBAs

You can earn an MBA online in just 12 months at some schools, but these accelerated programs aren’t for everyone. There’s a reason you don’t find many one-year online MBA programs at top business schools: they tend to be extremely demanding. In some cases, colleges and universities with these programs prefer that students forgo employment while enrolled. It’s a format better suited to immersive in-person instruction than to an online MBA program.

Are online MBAs respected?

It’s improbable at this point that you’ll encounter companies or hiring managers biased against online MBA holders—and not just because most online graduate degree programs confer the same diplomas as programs delivered in person. Very few employers will even ask whether you earned your MBA online or on-campus, and if your degree comes from a well-respected business school, they won’t care.

How does an online MBA impact job prospects?

The MBA is a career-boosting degree, no matter how you earn it. Still, nailing down exactly how this degree will affect your job prospects can be challenging. Some colleges and universities publish student outcomes, and these can give you an idea of what your post-MBA career might look like. Other schools don’t share student data, making it more difficult to determine what kind of impact the program might have on your career. What we can say with certainty is that some doors are open only to MBA graduates of top-tier business schools.

How does an online MBA impact salary potential?

The question ‘Does it matter where you get your MBA?’ is especially relevant when looking at this degree’s impact on earning potential. The average MBA salary encompasses a huge population—nearly 200,000 new MBAs are minted every year—with data points ranging from unemployed to eye-popping incomes.

How much of a salary boost you get from your MBA will depend on where you go to school and what you do after you graduate. Your earning potential may increase by close to 100 percent if you graduate from Southern Methodist University‘s Edwin L. Cox School of Business or the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor‘s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Online MBA rankings

The answer to the question ‘Do MBA rankings matter?’ isn’t clear. Rankings don’t tell you anything useful about the content or the overall quality of traditional or Executive MBA programs. Lists of top-tier MBA programs published by resources like US News & World Report and Poets & Quants can help guide your research, but shouldn’t be the primary driver when you’re choosing between two programs. On the other hand, corporate recruiters do consider school rank when looking at potential hires. If you have both the bona fides and the financial resources to enroll in one of the best online MBA programs, you’d be a fool not to.

What are the best online MBA programs?

According to U.S. News & World Report, the top online MBA programs at:
Arizona State University (Main Campus) W. P. Carey School of Business

What are the cheapest online MBA programs?

Before we answer this question, let us offer a few words of caution. Cheap is good when you’re talking about toilet paper, but it’s not a word you want associated with your online MBA program. Plenty of unknown colleges and universities offer bargain-basement MBAs and inexpensive online classes, but the diploma you get from those schools might not be worth much.

That’s because most of the value of an MBA lies not in the degree you receive but in what you gain from the program. Before you decide to enroll in the most affordable AACSB-accredited MBA program or affordable ACBSP-accredited MBA program you can find, consider what you might be giving up—e.g., post-graduation career support or access to an active alumni network—by not exploring other options for paying for your MBA. Maybe your employer is willing to sponsor some or all of your MBA. You won’t know until you ask!

What are the best value online MBA programs?

This is a better question. Some colleges and universities have solid online MBA programs that won’t put the kind of strain on your wallet as Tepper or Kenan-Flagler. The University of Tulsa‘s online MBA, for instance, costs less than $48,000 before scholarships, but scholarships may cover 50 to 75 percent of online MBA tuition.

Then there are the schools with the most affordable MBA programs. You might not get the same career-boosting benefits from these programs that you’ll get from those offered by prestigious business schools, but don’t write them off. If you can’t move forward without an MBA but your circumstances don’t allow you to take out loans, the online MBA you can afford may be the best option. The following schools charge MBA candidates less than $300 per credit hour but can still help you launch a career in business or your own business:

Does it matter where you get your online MBA?

There’s no denying that an MBA from a world-renowned business school can have a considerable impact on your career, whether you earn your degree online or on campus. The ROI of a Kelley or Tepper MBA can be substantial. Newly minted MBAs from elite schools are more likely to be recruited immediately after—or even before—graduation, receive higher starting salaries, and have lifetime access to the most powerful alumni networks in the world.

However, if you can’t attend one of these programs, getting your degree from a less prestigious online MBA program can still give you a significant professional boost. The online world is rich with worthwhile MBA programs. You just need to find the one that’s right for you.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider


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